ENVE 5.6 – A SNAPPY WHEELSET THAT EXCELS

ENVE introduced the rim brake ENVE SES 5.6, or more simply the ENVE 5.6 in 2018 as the successor to the SES 4.5. When I last reviewed this category of aero bike wheels, I picked the 4.5 as the best performer. After comparing many of the best aero wheelsets available, the ENVE 5.6 is the one I’d pick to ride every day.


Click here to read my review of the disc brake version of this wheelset and here to read reviews of other aero wheels


No, I don’t have an ENVE tattoo anywhere on my body. And sadly, I returned this wheelset just like every other that is sent to us to demo for reviews.

In fact, among all the wheelsets I rode this past season, I enjoyed riding the ENVE 5.6 more than any other one. While my riding profile would normally suit a shallower wheelset, I’d happily ride this one most any day of the week.

The 5.6 is more responsive than any other wheelset I’ve ridden including shallower and lighter ones. It jumped forward when I wanted to move out or ramp up my speed while underway. When I cranked up the watts going up rollers, up steeper hills or working to close a gap, it was stiff. And it handled precisely and confidently going fast downhill and into corners

This ENVE 5.6 wheelset seemed to take less effort to go fast and held my speed incredibly well. I didn’t measure watts vs. mph but it sure felt like I was putting out less of the former and getting more of the later than any other wheelset I can remember. You know when you feel like you are going fast but not working that hard? You look down at your speed and say to yourself… whoa, I’m going fast. It felt like that a lot on these wheels.

The Chris King hubs on the 5.6 rolled very smoothly. They were comfortable on tubeless rims with their 20mm inner width. I also felt confident braking on the textured rim brake tracks that emitted a slightly higher frequency and lower volume than the Zipp’s textured brake track.

On a fall day full of crosswind, the ENVE 5.6 compared favorably against the Bontrager XXX 6 and Zipp 404 NSW that I rode back to back to back. And the Bonty and Zipp were amongst the best I’ve ridden in crosswinds in this racing bike wheels category.

So that’s my take. For context, I’m a B-group, 18-20mph enthusiast on an endurance frame. I don’t race or time trial but I do try to ride fast.

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Nate is my evil twin tester. While we weigh practically the same (150-155lbs – that’s the twin part), he’s an A-group ride leader, does road races, hill climb events, and even the occasional TT. He wins some of them in a pretty tough age group. And he has a stiff S-Works Tarmac racing frame.

He’s also a very, very nice guy but truly evil if you try to outdo him on the road.

Nate and I reached similar conclusions about the ENVE 5.6 on some criteria and different ones on others. He really liked how they performed at high speed and how well they maintained their momentum once there. “Wheeeee!!!” was the technical term he used to sum up his aero evaluation.

He also liked how they accelerated from a stop or when he wanted to make a big power burst while already at speed. They were noticeably tougher to climb with than the 40mm-50mm carbon wheels he normally rides, but he found this to be true of many of the wheels in this racing bike wheels category. That was my experience too.

For the record, the wheelset we rode had Chris King R45 hubs and came in at 1559 grams on my scale, the same as what ENVE claims for them. The front wheel was 5g lighter and the back 5g heavier than what ENVE claimed but obviously, well within the margin of error and manufacturing tolerance.

If you think riding a 1481 gram wheelset will help you climb better, you can save those 78 grams (and get a quieter freehub too) by going with the ENVE carbon shell hub on these wheels for the same $3000 price as the one we rode with the King. Alternatively, if you prefer spending $2550 for the wheelset, you can spec it with the ENVE alloy shell hub at 1593 grams.

Nate didn’t love the SES 5.6’s ride and handling. At least, he didn’t love it compared to the equally stiff Bontrager Aeolus XXX 6 or the more forgiving Zipp 404 NSW.

Using the Goldilocks testing method on all three wheelsets, he found ENVE wheelset rode too hard at 80 psi, was less accurate at 65 psi, but at 72 psi offered the best combination of comfort and handling. (FYI, I rode it at 60 psi, closer to where ENVE suggests riders that weigh what Nate and I should).

While Nate found the ENVE and Bonty equally responsive at 72 psi, to him the ENVE seemed to exaggerate the roughness of the road at that pressure while the Bontrager and Zipp wheels dampened it.

In the crosswinds, Nate felt ENVE and Bonty were better than the Zipp.

Nate summarized his evaluation of the ENVE 5.6 using the practical framework of ride time and road terrain.

“Over shorter rides (<3 hours) without too much elevation or on smoother roads, I’d take them in a heartbeat…there are some KOMs I’ve been needing to claim back and these might just be the right tool :-). However for longer rides and certainly on my stiffer bike frame, I think I’d rather have the smoother Zipp/Bonti ride, even if sacrificing some of ENVE’s responsive snap.”

So bro, I guess we come out at much the same place?

I would summarize it this way: The ENVE will make an already comfortable endurance bike ride stiffer and more responsive while the Bontrager will make a stiff bike ride more comfortably.

ENVE also makes a road disc brake version of the 5.6 that use rims claimed to be 85g lighter than the rim brake model. Overall they are claimed to be about 50g lighter than the rim brake model for the $2550 version with the ENVE alloy hubs.

You can click on these links to top-ranked stores Competitive Cyclist, Merlin Cycles, or this link to Know’s Shop to find and order the ENVE SES 5.6 rim and disc brake wheelsets at the best prices from the best stores. You can also get it directly from ENVE.

You can read my evaluation of other wheelsets in this category in the post The Best Aero Bike Wheels. 

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First published on May 29, 2019. Date of the most recent major update shown at the top of the post.

15 comments

  • I purchased the 5.6 Road disc based on your recommendations and have not looked back! I raced my first Crit on the Enve’s this past weekend on a highly technical course with tight turns and hills. The wheels performed flawlessly in every aspect. They are everything you say but I disagree with the comments about making a stiff bike stiffer. I have an Argon 18 Nitrogen which is pretty tight and the wheels, if anything, made the bike a bit smoother. That might have something to do with the new Continental 5000 tubless installed but needless to say, after an almost 5 hour, 82 mile ride this past weekend, I was totally comfortable the entire ride. Thanks for your review and from my perspective, your observations were spot on.

    • Full post:

      Since this site has been so helpful to me in my decision to purchase the 5.6 Rim Brakes, I figured I would share my perspective coming off of the 2018 Zipp 303 FC clincher (non-tubeless).

      First, Steve’s review was spot on. These wheels are very fast! I only have 200 miles on them, but I have found that once you get over ~21mph The wheels seem to “push” you forward. I don’t know how else to describe it because I have never experienced it before. I have multiple PRs on Strava with these wheels.

      The brake track (rim) is also the best I have ever experienced, and in my view, it is light years ahead of the Zipp “Showstopper.” My frame has direct mount brakes and the combination of the direct mount and the ENVE brake tracks make it feel like I have disc brakes. Seriously.

      As far as hubs go, I went with the Enve alloy hubs, and thus far, I really like them. I choose them after speaking with the folks at ENVE who guided me in that direction when i told them that I wanted minimal maintenance.
      The hubs have a slightly quieter yet deeper (“throatier” if you will) freewheel sound compared to the Zipps. The wheels don’t flex very much (see ya later brake rub!)

      Last but not least, ride feel. For context, I am coming from 17mm internal rim width, clincher, with 25m GP 5000s inflated to 90 PSI. These ride is a little firmer than I anticipated, however, GP 5000 TLs inflated to 80 PSI, are still MUCH more comfortable than my previous set up listed above.

      All in all, unless you ride in the mountains or ride gravel, I would say these could be the best wheels out there, especially for rim brake. The aerodynamics, brake track, hub choices, and ENVE warranty make these a no-brainer. And in-case you can’t tell, I am an ENVE fan-boy now. This quite possibly may be the only wheel company I purchase from in the future.

  • Maybe I missed it, but what tires were both of you running and what size? Tubes (latex vs butyl) or tubeless? All will have major impact on ride quality and feel.

    I believe these would be optimised for 25c, as Enve is recommending the 4.5 AR for wider 28c.

    • Kuttermax, We used 25C Zipp Tangente Speed RT25 run tubeless as the benchmark on all the aero wheels. I typically inflate to 60 psi, Nate to around 70 psi though we may alter that to find the optimum mix of comfort and handling. Steve

  • I just want to add that Enve’s new lifetime crash replacement policy may be a significant tie breaker for others that are currently shopping for wheels.

  • You say noticeably harder to climb with than the 40-50 he uses.. what elevation and gradient are talking about here please? Trying to decide between 4.5s and 5.6

  • How do they compare with the campagnolo bora wto 60 I wonder

  • All in all, unless you ride in the mountains or ride gravel, I would say that these could be the best wheels out there, especially for rim brake. The aerodynamics, brake track, hub choices, and ENVE warranty make these a no-brainer. And in-case you can’t tell, I am an ENVE fan-boy now. This may quite possibly may be the only wheel company I purchase from in the future.

  • VERY interesting. Geez I love your “flow” (editorial style).
    Looking at both the Enve and Bontrager models mentioned here, for an endurance bike w discs.
    Seeing that I weigh an invariable 225 lbs., do you feel that one may be better suited for my weightclass?

    • Bernhard, Thanks, my English teachers would be proud. We’re finishing up our riding evaluations of the road disc versions of the ENVE SES 5.6 and Bontrager Aeolus XXX6 (and other similar models) now for a mid/late August review. If you can hang on a few weeks, you’ll have a more complete set of reviews and comparisons to consider. Steve

      • I will gladly wait for your upcoming review, no rush.
        – this reply is brought to you by Bernard’s budget.

  • Hi Steve,
    I have an old pair of Fulcrum racing Zero alloy wheels that have served me very well. Have you had a ride on the Carbon version of these wheels?

    They are more for climbing than comfort but hope that with wider 28 tubeless tires & lower pressures they would be a suitable option. I live in a hilly region in Australia & like the lighter weights & stiffness the provided in the alloy. They have ceramic bearings with oil lubrication in the hubs & I am concerned that they might be troublesome & a bit expensive to maintain?? I am looking to upgrade my stock shop wheels on my Focus Izalco Max D.
    Rec rider on mainly sealed roads but now want the option of gravel as well?
    Thanks so much for your efforts & reviews they are very helpful for me when selecting equipment. You are amazing with the work you put in to the reviews & should be very proud.

    • Paul, I’ve not tested those wheels. Take a look at the home page to see my reviews of different types of wheels from upgrade alloy to carbon climbing and all around. You might also want to look at my review on how to choose the best wheels for you to guide you to what best suits your goals, profile and budget. Steve

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